BAKASSI CONTROVERSY IS SCRAMBLE FOR OIL, NOT THE PEOPLES’ INTEREST
BAKASSI CONTROVERSY IS SCRAMBLE FOR OIL, NOT THE PEOPLES’ INTEREST
By Peluola Adewale, Democratic Socialist Movement, Lagos
The handover of Bakassi to Cameroon have come and gone but the contradiction still remains. The battle between the governments obviously was over the controls of oil and not about the people considering the complete neglect of the people by the two countries (Nigeria and Cameroon). The level of poverty and complete neglect by governments in Bakassi attest to this fact. But for pride and commercial interest both countries have no moral rights or interests in the peninsular. The youths and children from birth have lost the right to get basic education and health care; living in shanties has become a normal way of life; and other basic facilities are as scarce as water in the desert.
The ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which has generated hot debates in Nigeria is fundamentally flawed. Even if Nigeria had won the case at ICJ this assertion would still have remained sacrosanct and incontrovertible. Bakassi’s existence, as a geographical entity, is in spite of the two countries. The ruling has only followed the fact, since the 1884/5 Berlin Congress, that the country a community belongs in Africa is an invention of the imperialists’ interests. This is a fundamental problem of Africa. Indeed capitalism all over the world has not only failed to resolve the nationality questions it creates, but has also compounded the crisis. In line with the trend the ICJ had arrived at the verdict with no iota of consideration for democratic wishes, through a referendum, of the inhabitants of the peninsular.
The demarcation of Africa, and all treaties in 18th and 19th centuries, were not only artificial, but also undemocratic. When the European imperialist scramblers were partitioning Africa, they were doing it for their commercial interest and not in the interest of ordinary Africans. However, there cannot be any resolution within the bourgeois legal framework as personified at the international level by the International Court of justice (ICJ) and the internal courts, be it Federal High Court or any other court, simply because it does not and will not offer the people an opportunity to decide their fate.
In all ramifications, the whole processes were undemocratic. Beginning with the so called treaties by the European scramblers; followed by the agreements signed by Gowon and Abacha governments that went to the ICJ and the Green Tree Agreement signed by the Obasanjo on June 13 2006 in New York, were all made without any public hearing, let alone participation, of the Bakassi indigenes. There exists no record of Africans willingly surrendering their sovereignty whether as individuals, nations or kingdoms to the European imperialists. Gowon was never voted into power neither was Abacha; while there was no plebiscite or referendum before the secret treaty was signed by Obasanjo. The action of the ICJ, an arm of the United Nations (UN), is not in any way different from its forerunner, the League of Nations, that redistributed control of African colonies from Germany, the loser of the First World War, to that war’s victors Belgium, Britain and France. None of the treaties or agreements was subjected to referendum either to the Cameroonians or Nigerians to decide on what best way to resolve the impasse.
If the Bakassi Peninsular were not an oil-rich area, both leaders in Nigeria and Cameroon would not have bothered over who control the area. There is used to be a border dispute between Nigeria (Borno State) and Chad and most people do not know about it because no major commercial interest is involved. In Bakassi the friction and border tension started in the early 1980s after the discovery of oil in the area, which has fuelled constant clashes between Nigeria military and Cameroonian gendarmes.
In terms of basic infrastructures such as schools, hospitals, roads/transportation etc., the presence of the government (Nigeria and Cameroon) is most appalling whereas both governments spent billions of Dollars to prosecute the case in the ICJ and also sponsoring military attacks in the area. If these huge resources were used to provide infrastructure, the people will feel the impact.
The August 14 hand-over of Bakassi to Cameroon by Nigeria has for now removed the possibility of war over the disputed area. But the popular anger in Nigeria over the handover has not abated. It is possible in future for an unpopular regime to launch a foreign adventure in Bakassi in order to gain domestic popularity. Workers and the poor masses of Nigeria should vehemently oppose such escapade. If the Bakassi issue degenerates into a war situation, it is imperialism and the thieving ruling elites of both countries that would benefit. The big arms dealers and government functionaries would make brisk business with super profits while the working people in Nigerians and Cameroonians count their losses, both human and material. War situation also gives the ruling elite opportunity to undermine democratic rights through emergency rules and spend uncensored money at the expense of basic needs of the poor working people.
However, the hand-over has not signposted the reign of lasting peace; it is indeed the planting of seed of new phases of crises. Aside from constant clashes like we have witnessed at the border recently between the Cameroonian gendarmes and the militants, the oil exploration may begin quickly, which guarantees big profit for the companies. The area may sooner than later become another crisis zone as we have witnessed in the Niger Delta wherein the all places will not only be neglected by the oil companies and the rent-taking government but also the major source of livelihood, which is fishing will be highly undermined by oil pollution, oil spillage, pipe line fire without any meaningful compensation or clean-up of the environment.
The Nigerian government has proposed the relocation of the Bakassi people. N3billion which has been allocated for the exercise is not only grossly inadequate, but also another conduit pipe for corrupt enrichment as the resources will be largely embezzled. As we write, over 3,000 inhabitants of Bakassi are now refugees being made to live like animals in primary schools not even fit for learning let alone habitation despite the huge resources claimed to have been spent by the Federal government, Cross River state and Akwa Ibom state governments.
The relocation definitely poses its own problems. The new places they might be relocated to will never be a free land even if it is lying fallow. This thereby would create a new status of “settlers”, a situation which may in the long run become a potential source of clash between them and original inhabitants. Besides, the means of livelihood of Bakassi people, who are mostly fishermen, will be endangered if the relocation makes access to water difficult or impossible for them.
The Bakassi people should be allowed to remain in the Peninsular if they wish so and choose whether they wish to be Nigerian, Cameroonian or dual Nigerian/Cameroonian citizens. There have never been reported problems between the people of both countries who all along have lived happily, traded together and carried out the same occupation together. The problems lie squarely with imperialist powers who are looking for raw materials such as oil and the two irresponsible governments (Nigeria and Cameroonian). For instance, after the closure of border on Friday 8 2008 by the Cameroonian authorities, a boat driver, Etim, told the Lagos Guardian, “Since on Friday, we cannot travel and some of our people who travelled were returned by the gendarmes. This is a serious problem for us. As usual we do not have problems with the Cameroun traders and they don’t have problems with us.” (Sunday Guardian, August 10, 2008).
Based on the present imperialist induced solution to Bakassi crisis, it is certain that the democratic rights and aspiration of the ordinary Bakassi people will not be met. Socialists therefore will support the rights of Bakassi people to self -determination side by side with agitation for socialist transformation of the area.
Labour and pro-masses’ organisations should put demands on government of Nigeria to provide housing, roads, safe water, electricity, schools, hospitals/health centres, etc in any areas of relocation both for the Bakassi people and the existing inhabitants. Alongside a solidarity appeal for support of working class people of Cameroon and their organisations, similar demands should be placed on Cameroonian government to allow people who wish to continue living in Bakassi to do so and provide basic needs and infrastructure in the area, as well as a call for an end to excesses of gendarme who exploit and brutalise the inhabitants perhaps at the behest of the government.
As it obtains in oil-producing Niger Delta area, it would require sacrificing the super profit of multinationals and greed of the renting-taking, thieving ruling elite of Cameroon before any sustainable development with basis needs and infrastructure for the poor working masses could take place in Bakassi. Nigeria has made about $500bn from the sales of crude oil since 1960, yet there is fundamentally nothing to show for it in term of infrastructure development and standards of living for workers and poor masses in the country.
It is therefore imperative for labour and pro-masses’ organisations both in Nigeria and Cameroon to develop genuine solidarity between working people in their countries and to facilitate the formation of independent working class political parties. Such parties could wrest political power from the rapacious ruling elites in both countries and install a working peoples’ governments that will commit public resources to provision of basic needs of workers and poor masses as well as adequate infrastructure for meaning full socio-economic developments. However, for this to be sustained on lasting basis, the commanding heights of economy and resources of nature must be put under public ownership with democratic management and control by the working people themselves. More importantly, a working class movement has to be formed that could defeat iniquitous capitalist system and, with working class unity and solidarity in both countries, create federation or co-federation of socialist states of Nigeria and Cameroon and set an example to the rest of Africa and the world.